|Born||27 June 1838|
Naihati, Bengal Presidency, British India
|Died||8 April 1894 (aged 55)|
Kolkata, Bengal Presidency, British India
|Occupation||Writer, poet, novelist, essayist, journalist, lecturer and politician|
|Alma mater||University of Calcutta|
|Literary movement||Bengal Renaissance|
Bankimchandra Chatterjee or Bankimchandra Chatjee (27 June 1838-8 April 1894) was an Indian novelist, poet and journalist. He was the composer of Vande Mataram, originally in Sanskrit stotra personifying India as a mother goddess and inspiring activists during the Indian Independence Movement. Chattopadhyay wrote thirteen novels and many serious, serio-comic, satirical, scientific and critical treatises in Bengali. His works were widely translated into other regional languages of India as well as in English. He was born on 13th Ashard 1245, as per Bengali calendar.
Chattopadhyay is widely regarded as a key figure in literary renaissance of Bengal as well as the broader Indian subcontinent. Some of his writings, including novels, essays, and commentaries, were a breakaway from traditional verse-oriented Indian writings, and provided an inspiration for authors across India.
Chattopadhyay was born in the village Kanthalpara in the town of North 24 Parganas, Naihati, in an orthodox Bengali Brahmin family, the youngest of three brothers, to Yadav Chandra Chattopadhyaya and Durgadebi. His father, a government official, went on to become the Deputy Collector of Midnapur. One of his brothers, Sanjib Chandra Chattopadhyay was also a novelist and he is known for his famous book "Palamau". Bankim Chandra and his elder brother both had their schooling from Midnapore Collegiate School (then Governmental Zilla School), where he wrote his first poem. He was educated at the Hooghly Mohsin College (founded by Bengali philanthropist Muhammad Mohsin) and later at Presidency College, Kolkata, graduating with a degree in Arts in 1858. He later attended the University of Calcutta and was one of the two candidates who passed the final exam to become the school's first graduates. He later obtained a degree in Law as well, in 1869. In 1858, he was appointed a Deputy Collector (the same type of position held by his father) of Jessore. He went on to become a Deputy Magistrate, retiring from government service in 1891. His years at work were replete with incidents that brought him into conflict with the ruling British. He was, however, made a Companion in the Order of the Indian Empire in 1894.
Chattopadhyay's earliest publications were in Ishwar Chandra Gupta's weekly newspaper Sangbad Prabhakar. Following the model of Ishwar Chandra Gupta, he began his literary career as a writer of verse. His talents showed him other directions, and turned to fiction. His first attempt was a novel in Bengali submitted for a declared prize. He did not win the prize, and the novelette was never published. His first fiction to appear in print was Rajmohan's Wife. It was written in English and is regarded as the first Indian novel to be written in English.Durgeshnondini, his first Bengali romance and the first ever novel in Bengali, was published in 1865.
Kapalkundala (1866) is Chattopadhyay's first major publication. The hero of this novel was Nabakumar. The heroine of this novel, named after the mendicant woman in Bhavabhuti's Malatimadhava, is modelled partly after Kalidasa's Shakuntala and partly after Shakespeare's Miranda. However, the partial similarities are only inferential analysis by critics, and Chattopadhyay's heroine may be completely his original. He had chosen Dariapur in Contai Subdivision as the background of this famous novel.
His next romance, Mrinalini (1869), marks his first attempt to set his story against a larger historical context. This book marks the shift from Chattopadhyay's early career, in which he was strictly a writer of romances, to a later period in which he aimed to stimulate the intellect of the Bengali speaking people and bring about a cultural renaissance of Bengali literature.
Chattopadhyay started publishing a monthly literary magazine Bangadarshan in April 1872, the first edition of which was filled almost entirely with his own work. The magazine carried serialised novels, stories, humorous sketches, historical and miscellaneous essays, informative articles, religious discourses, literary criticisms, and reviews. Vishabriksha (The Poison Tree, 1873) is the first novel of Chattopadhyay that appeared serially in Bangodarshan.
Bangodarshan went out of circulation after four years. It was later revived by his brother, Sanjeeb Chandra Chattopadhyay.
Chattopadhyay's next major novel was Chandrasekhar (1877), which contains two largely unrelated parallel plots. Although the scene is once shifted back to eighteenth century, the novel is not historical. His next novel was Rajani (1877), which features an autobiographical plot, with a blind girl in the title role. Autobiographical plots had been used in Wilkie Collins' "A Woman in White", and a precedent for blind girl in a central role existed in Edward Bulwer-Lytton's Nydia in "The Last Days of Pompeii", though the similarities of Rajani with these publications end there.
In Krishnakanter Will (Krishnakanta's Will, 1878) Chattopadhyay produced a complex plot. It was a brilliant depiction of contemporary India and its lifestyle and corruption. In that complexity, critics saw resemblance to Western novels.
One of the many novels of Chattopadhyay that are entitled to be termed as historical fiction is Rajsimha (1881, rewritten and enlarged 1893). Anandamath (The Abbey of Bliss, 1882) is a political novel which depicts a Sannyasi (Hindu ascetic) army fighting the British soldiers. The book calls for the rise of Indian nationalism. The novel was also the source of the song Vande Mataram (I worship my Motherland for she truly is my mother) which, set to music by Rabindranath Tagore, was taken up by many Indian nationalists, and is now the National Song of India. The plot of the novel is loosely set on the Sannyasi Rebellion. He imagined untrained Sannyasi soldiers fighting and beating the highly experienced British Army; ultimately, however, he accepted that the British cannot be defeated. He categorically claimed that the British are not the enemy but friends; the Muslims are the real enemy. Hence, this novel is also termed communal in nature. The novel first appeared in serial form in Bangadarshan, the literary magazine that Chattopadhyay founded in 1872. Vande Mataram became prominent during the Swadeshi movement, which was sparked by Lord Curzon's attempt to partition Bengal into a Hindu majority West and a Muslim majority East. Drawing from the Shakti tradition of Bengali Hindus, Chattopadhyay personified India as a Mother Goddess, which gave the song a Hindu undertone that would prove to be problematic for some Muslims.
Chattopadhyay's next novel, Devi Chaudhurani, was published in 1884. His final novel, Sitaram (1886), tells the story of a local Hindu lord, torn between his wife and the woman he desires but unable to attain, makes a series of blunders and takes arrogant, self-destructive decisions. Finally, he must confront his self and motivate the few loyal soldiers that stand between his estate and the Muslim Nababs army about to take over.
Chattopadhyay's humorous sketches are his best-known works other than his novels. Kamalakanter Daptar (From the Desk of Kamalakanta, 1875; enlarged as Kamalakanta, 1885) contains half humorous and half serious sketches. Kamalakanta is an opium-addict, similar to De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, but Bankim Chandra goes much beyond with his deft handling of sarcastic, political messages that Kamalakanta delivers.
Chattopadhyay's commentary on the Gita was published eight years after his death and contained his comments up to the 19th Verse of Chapter 4. Through this work, he attempted to reassure Hindus who were increasingly being exposed to Western ideas. His belief was, that there was "No serious hope of progress in India except in Hinduism-reformed, regenerated and purified". He wrote an extensive commentary on two verses in particular - 2.12 and 2.13 - which deal with the immortality of the soul and its reincarnation
Critics, like Pramathnath Bishi, consider Chattopadhyay as the best novelist in Bangla literature. Their belief is that few writers in world literature have excelled in both philosophy and art as Bankim has done. They have felt that in a colonised nation Bankim could not overlook politics. He was one of the first intellectuals who wrote in a British colony, accepting and rejecting the status at the same time. Bishi also rejects the division of Bankim in 'Bankim the artist' and 'Bankim the moralist' - for Bankim must be read as a whole.
Chattopadhyay was married at eleven. He had a son with his first wife, who died in 1859. He later married Rajalakshmi Devi with whom he had three daughters.
Chattopadhyay's first novel was an English one, Rajmohan's Wife and he also started writing his religious and philosophical essays in English.